The Art of ELT – Vladka

Art in Education or The Art of Education
Vladimira Chalyova

Vladimira Chalyova


“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”  – John F. Kennedy


When I was first asked to write a post about this topic, I was told that I am the right person to write about art and colours. Sure, after a couple of presentations and articles on Colours in the Classroom, people started associating me with this topic. However, I got sort of annoyed hearing that. My first reaction was that I won’t be writing about colours. In my understanding, art is much more than that and art in education, just like in real life, is anything but predictable!

Art, just as much as learning, should never be about the outcome. After all, who can tell when the learning stops? As a teacher, I feel more like a student than ever before.


“Art is not a thing — it is a way.”

Elbert Hubbard

If education is to nourish the roots of our culture, teachers must set the students free to follow their learning wherever it takes them.

We, as teachers, need to let go of our need to predict the outcome of our teaching.

So how can we teach without being too attached to the results of our work? How can we turn a nicely organized classwork into a life reflecting art that goes beyond the lesson plan?

First of all, we need to get comfortable with the diversity of results we might get and the direction our students may choose along the way.

This is the art of education, providing our students with tools and guidance as they try them without insisting on the way we would choose for them, no matter how noble our intention is.


“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

Scott Adams

Let’s also not forget how art itself is defined – “a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.”

Here is how we can create an atmosphere where students’ artistic nature can thrive:

  • When planning, pay extra attention to the first stage of a lesson. This is the time and place for you to provide tools – vocabulary, phrases, context, all the resources you may need later.
  • Art, even abstract, is inevitably topical. Work within a topic but don’t hold on to it too tight if your students bring in another one. Nevertheless, discussion on its relevance is welcome at that point.
  • Don’t expect lower level students to work as independently with “the tools” as the more experienced ones. However, encourage them in experimenting and allow mistakes.
  • Mistakes should be approached as a learning/teaching material too. Don’t leave them unnoticed nor deal with them individually. It is important to find a way to use them comfortably within a group, even encourage students sharing them and discussing them.
  • A curious mind is too busy to be anxious and organized enough to follow the inspiration towards creation. Always aim to tickle your students’ curiosity, be it in a classroom or at home.
  • Even though I said the art is not about the outcome, the sense of achievement is very important for almost everyone and we should not ignore it. Despite the fact, consider the outcome just another ripple in the waters of learning and don’t stop there.
  • Ask questions, always! Not the checking sort of questions but rather provoking, curious ones. Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have so cultivating your own curiosity is essential.
  • How can you cultivate your own or your students’ curiosity? First of all, approach whatever is presented to you with a question of interest rather than judgment. Second, don’t fall for definitions you are given. Next, don’t worry if you don’t have opinion on some issue or answers to questions you are asked. Not having one signifies growth rather than lack of capacity.


“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”  – Leo Tolstoy

As critical thinking is not the same as criticism, taking an individual path of learning is not necessarily an individual work. In classrooms especially, we are given a chance to work towards union of individualities learning from and with each other.

Some may choose a different approach, a new way and some may have a unique outcome.  And that’s the art of education: The diversity in which we use the tools of a language towards the same goal: communication.


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The Art of ELT – Chrysa

Art in ELT & the Power of Thinking Routines
Chrysa Papalazarou

Chrysa Papalazarou

 “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world”

John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972


It is not unusual for us teachers and our learners to stick to routine classroom practice which is often structured around the need to perform well on tests and examinations. As a result, novelty, experimentation, fun, and creativity in the teaching/learning process may be restrained. Teaching and learning, however, are inherently creative activities. They call for all of us involved in the process to think in diverse ways, take risks, change present situations, and get better control over the meanings that shape our lives.

I am not an art expert but I like art and I believe in the powerful impact art can have upon learners’ thinking, learning and life attitudes. That was my starting point. In the last three years I have been using art in a more conscious and systematic way in my English class. I work a lot with paintings, photography and video. Within the context of an increasingly visual, contemporary culture, systematic contact with the expressive and communicative potential of visual language helps students become gradually proficient users of visual discourse. It enhances their ability to communicate ideas, meanings, information and feelings. Visual literacy enables the evaluative and selective use of the huge amount of visual information received daily and helps learners become themselves active readers of images.

There can be many ways to deal with visual arts. A framework that works efficiently in my teaching situation is the Making Thinking Visible Approach.

Visible Thinking is a flexible and systematic research-based framework stemming from Project Zero, an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Its original aim is to study and improve education in the arts, and has a double goal: a) to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions and b) to deepen content learning. The basic idea is to make thinking visible within the context of learning, thus fostering cultures of thinking.

Post-it notes, sheets of construction papers on the walls, any sort of visible documentation within the classroom can be used for this aim where students’ individual and collective thinking is valued, revealed and promoted. By making thinking visible, students regulate, monitor, guide and reflect on their learning.

Thinking Routines are at the core of the Visible Thinking Programme.

  • They are flexible, simple structures (i.e. a set of questions or a short sequence of steps that, when used systematically, promote the development of students’ thinking and the classroom culture).
  • They target specific types of thinking, are easy to learn and teach, can be used across a variety of context and can be subject to group or individual work.

Here is an example of how these routines can be integrated in the English class and help learners develop their critical thinking and creativity alongside improving their English language skills.

While working on the theme of War/Peace, I showed my 6th grade primary school students (11 years old) Picasso’s Guernica.

I then asked them to: (Routine – Looking 10×2)

  1. Look at the painting for 30 seconds.
  2. Make a list of 10 words or phrases about what they see
  3. Share their words and phrases with the rest of the class
  4. Repeat the activity


I used a circle map to make their thinking visible (red marker was used for the 2nd phase of words and phrases they came up with when repeating the routine)

As homework I asked them to reflect on the session and write about it in their learning journals:



We then looked at the painting again, worked in groups, and elaborated more by using the See-Think-Wonder Routine:

  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think about it?
  3. What does it make you wonder?

We used post-it notes to keep a visible record of students’ observations, interpretations and wonderings. It looked like this:





Using Picasso’s Guernica and these 2 routines at the beginning of the theme was effective in many ways:


  • Children were fascinated by the process of observing-describing-interpreting
  • They were able to approach and decode Guernica; a painting rich and complex in symbolism
  • Their curiosity and expectations were aroused
  • The ground was laid for dealing with the relevant historical context
  • They developed their metaphoric thinking
  • Motivation levels were high


In the final stage, after the children had being exposed to more visual stimuli (paintings/photographs/short film), they applied the Colour-Symbol-Image Routine. I asked them to work in pairs or in groups, and decide what they wished to represent: war or peace. They had to:


a)     Select a colour/colours that they felt represented the ideas we discussed during the theme. They should also explain why they chose it.

b)    Select a symbol. Explain why they chose it.

c)     Choose an image. Explain why they chose it.


Colour-Symbol-Image is a thinking routine that asks students to distil the essence of ideas explored from reading, watching, listening or discussing in both non-verbal and verbal ways. It mostly has to do with personal or collective creative expression of what they consider insightful or important. Here is an example of how they crystallized the theme of war/peace through this routine.


In a fast changing world, the goals of education and the type of “minds” we wish to cultivate need to be frequently reevaluated. Though academic skills and achievement are prominent on the agenda, critical thinking, creativity, respectfulness, and ethical minds are also highly valued (Gardner, 2007). Using Art and Thinking routines in the ELT context can attend to more creative forms of learning and teaching.

Resources you might find useful:

Visible Thinking Website

Visible Thinking – Thinking Routines

Harvard – Artful Thinking

Howard Gardner – Five Minds For the Future


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The Art of ELT – Ika

The Heart and Art In ELT
Ika Chieka Wibowo

Ika Chieka Wibowo

“The best teacher teaches from the heart not from the book”

I’ve been a teacher for about 8 years. I teach different levels of learners ranging from YLs to adults.  It was really hard at the beginning as I had to put myself in different classes with very different students who different English abilities. Now, I teach about 6 or 7 hours every day and I have to prepare my mind as my teaching style changes every hour. “ It’s crazy”, I said in my heart. However as I have made the decision to be a teacher at an English School, of course I have to keep in both my mind and heart that I must keep going and keep learning — period.  This is my art.

One of my favorite books is  Medidik Dengan Hati (Teaching From The Heart)  by Alberthiene Endah. I’ve learned a lot about teaching from this book including the following five powers that are at the heart of my art of ELT.

1.  The Power of Smiling “Keep Smiling”! Yes, it’s one of the things I always say to myself every morning before going to work. Smiling is a very simple activity but it has a big value for my students and me. The positive energy spread by smiling can directly change the atmosphere in the classroom. Our students will be more optimistic to learn the lessons since they see their teacher feeling happy. We should not expect our students to smile at us, we should make the first move.

2.  The Power of Greeting I took it as my habit since I like getting closer with the students. I greet every student I meet although they are not my own student.  When I meet my students, I always greet them by using 4 H (Handshake – High Five – How are you – Hello).  Most of the students will feel comfortable to talk in English after we greet them nicely because they will feel accepted.

3.  The Power of Passion for teaching The Oxford English Dictionary defines passion as  “An intense desire or enthusiasm for something”. I live in a real world and I don’t have the same passion for each topic or lesson I want to teach every day. However, I have to be passionate every time I want to teach. When I teach my Young Learners I usually take my lovely hand-dolls to tell a story 15 minutes before jumping into the lesson. I love writing, reading and telling a story. I give a chance to each of my kids to create their own short story. Or I sometimes take the story from the storybooks or even I create my own story. Sometimes, the inspiration come from us and comes from our students, indeed.

One day, my elementary school students came to the class and played a traditional game. They looked very happy and enjoyed the game. I looked at them, listened and learned how it played and then, I got the idea of creating an English version of that game. It’s good for learning about vocabulary and parts of speech. The following day, I asked my students to play it again, but this time in English. And interestingly enough, they preferred playing that game in English instead of the Bahasa Indonesia version. Bringing our interests and passions into our classroom inspires our students and us as well.

4.  The Power of Class Rules Creating Class Rules is a good way to create an English atmosphere in the class. Each level learns English for 60 minutes twice a week; it means that I only meet the same students twice a week for 120 minutes. Therefore I have to create class rules in order to build students’ responsibility and spirit in learning English seriously.  I create different rules for Kids’ Classes, Teens’ Classes and Young Adults & Adults.

5.  The Power of Extra-Activities Each student learns English for 120 minutes twice a week.  Of course it’s not enough for them to master English easily. Students need extra time to express their ideas, be creative and develop their English skills. There two types of Extra-Activities usually done here, the first is “Sunday Meeting” where students in one school have to perform and take part in an English competition. The second is “Grand Meeting” where students from different School Branches are allowed to perform and also take part in the English competition. By doing these kinds of Extra-Activities, students will be more confident to speak in English, to write in English or to read in English. Besides, they will make new friends.

Those five powers are how I make my teaching more interesting and enjoyable for my students and also for me. Nothing is difficult if we try to do it with our heart. Teaching from the heart is what the art of ELT is all about for me.

To see how my thinking compares with others, I asked some other iTDi mentors to tell me what the Art in ELT means to them. Here’s what three of them had to say.

  • Theodora Papapanagiotou: “Every person is different and has his/her own style of teaching. And every student is different and can or can’t understand things according to how they are taught. So if we want to be good at what we do, we have to be ourselves, but adopt to our students’ needs at the same time”
  • Vicky Loras: “In my eighteen years of teaching up to now, I have come to the realisation, as many other educators, that the best teaching comes from the heart. No matter how much technology or other modern media there is in the classroom, no matter how little of these there are, no matter if the school has carpeting or dirt floors, no matter if there is one student or a hundred, all that matters at the end of the day are the people in the classroom, the teachers and the students. And from them comes the art of teaching – and learning”.
  • Rose Bard: “It means to reinvent myself. Art has influenced me as a person and as a teacher as I learned how to draw and paint. It taught me to be more observant and pay attention to details. It also has to do with creativity and expressing yourself. Art should be part of our lives and our students’ lives. Explore things together and find different ways to express”.


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The Art of ELT

What’s the art of ELT? In this issue Vladimira Chalyova, Chrysa Papalazarou, and
Ika Chieka Wibowo illustrate in their lovely posts that art is not a thing, it’s a way.

Vladimira Chalyova
Vladimira Chalyova
Chrysa Papalazarou
Chrysa Papalazarou
Ika Chieka Wibowo
Ika Chieka Wibowo


Connect with Vladimira, Chrysa, Ika and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

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